Friday, February 26, 2010

American Style Pasta Fagioli

We never get tired of pasta. There are so many ways to serve it. We literally could invent a new sauce everyday. I generally can make a satisfying sauce in the time it takes to boils the salted water and cook the pasta with ingredients in our pantry. I started some olive oil heating in a sauté pan, added some chopped garlic, sliced garlic sausage, thyme, crushed red peppers, and, after those flavors had time to meld, tossed in about 1 1/2 cups of cooked black-eyed peas. I tossed in the drained pasta and let it flavor in the sauce for a minute or two, added shredded cheese and served up tonight's new dinner classic.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Smashed Potato Skillet

"I have simple taste," James said as he dug into this skillet casserole of bacon, potatoes, garlic, and melted cheese. I nodded along and didn't mention the quality of ingredients that made this "simple" supper worth noting. While I slowly cooked lardons of slab bacon in a bit of olive oil to render out as much fast as possible I boiled some fingerling potatoes. When they were soft and a bit cooled I smashed the drained potatoes so they were flat but still in one piece and added them to the pan with the bacon and garlic to crisp the skins. When the potatoes had just browned I turned them over to crisp on the other side, stirred in a bit of cooked asparagus I happened to have in the fridge, 1 TB of butter and topped the skillet with easy to melt cheese (if I'd had Fontina I would have liked that but we had left over Raclette that worked out nicely). After a couple minutes in a hot oven our skillet dinner was ready to go.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rethinking Mark Peel

Okay, maybe I was too hasty. Right on these "pages" I complained about the days of cooking it took to turn a brisket into Mark Peel's version of Bolognese sauce. I reasoned that my usual sauce was just about as good and took at least 40 hours less to whip up.
Did roasting those tomatoes really make a difference? Was brisket better than bones?
Well, as you can see from these unusually unattractive photos, Mark Peel's recipe (all four large tomato cans worth) made plenty to store in the freezer.
The other night when I got home late and James felt like spaghetti I reached into the freezer and reheated some of the stored sauce while the pasta cooked. Wow -- even better reheated. Apologies to Mark Peel. I'm still not sure I'll be making this sauce on a regular basis or that anyone but Peel would call it Bolognese -- but straight from the freezer weeknight supper. Wow, delicious.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Yard Salad

Fresh salad with homegrown greens straight from the garden.
I called it a breakfast salad. Hard boiled eggs --fresh from "the girls", torn garlic croutons, and bacon vinaigrette.
For the croutons I trimmed the crust off some not so fresh bread and torn it into pieces about 1 1/2 inches long, I popped those in a frying over medium low heat with some garlic oil and (after about 10 minute cooking time) about 1 TB butter. While the croutons were crisping, I cooked some lardons of slab bacon in a sauté pan over medium low heat until the bacon colored and crisped but the pieces were still soft inside. I set the bacon pieces aside to drain on a paper towel and added the fat from the pan, along with 2 tsp of dijon mustard, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, and S&P to taste to the blender. While the ingredients blended I poured 1 cup of canola oil into the blender (pouring it down the side of the glass not right into the mixture). To serve I tossed the salad with the bacon pieces, croutons, hard boiled eggs, greens and dressing right from the blender.
Breakfast salad for dinner.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Italian Rye

Not commonly thought of as Italian bread, this light rye from Jim Lahey's cookbook (I know it's becoming quite a theme) has a firm texture and a subtle almost sourdough flavor. By now we all know the no-knead method made famous when the New York Times' Mark Bittman published bread genius Jim Lahey's pot cooked procedure. This loaf is no different -- a mixture of bread and rye flour ( 2 1/4 cups to 3/4 cups), yeast, salt and cool water quickly turned into a sticky dough and left to rise and flavor for around 20 hours. After being quickly shaped and left to rise (2 hours) again, the soft dough is turned into a pre-heated 5 quart pot and baked at 475º for 30 minutes covered and 30 minutes uncovered until the crust is a deep rich brown and the crumb light and tender. So far James' favorite is Lahey's delicate whole wheat bread. All I know is when homemade bread is this easy to make there is no reason to buy anyone else's loaves.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homemade Buratta

Well what else would I do with a spare afternoon?
When I saw a posting about homemade burrata, starting with Ricki "The Cheese Queen's" 30 Minute Mozzarella Magic recipe I immediately sent it to my cheese-making partner Shari and we set a date for the adventure. These days work's been a little crazy and there never seems to be enough time to even get the essentials finished, so Shari and I -- unlike my usual plan -- opted for Ricki's microwave method -- no sink filled with hot water or additional pot of near boiling water needed. All we had to do was bring milk up to temperature, add rennet and citric acid, drain the curd and microwave at 30 second intervals until the cheese could be stretched and filled with a combination of soft curd and cream.
To be honest this first attempt was more like the plastic packaged mozzarella you might shred for pizza then it was the silky soft fresh cheese packed in water -- although perfectly edible But, the microwave method gives just the confidence needed to try the more involved hot water process. Stay tuned for our fresh cheese progress.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Loaf of the Week: Crisp Crust Pancetta Bread

Counting down my way through Jim Lahey's cookbook. Crusty white bread with bits of crisp pancetta and red pepper flakes. Nothing really to complain about there. Once again this is sort of a flavored version of Lahey's famous no knead white bread, this time with a bit of the bacon fat (grease from pre-cooking the pancetta) mixed into the dough.
I admit it -- I was lazy and used the pre-chopped, packaged pancetta from Trader Joes. I can't help but feel this silky textured loaf will be improved by better pork products with a heavier dose of the traditional Italian spices. All in all though -- not too bad and maybe the dream slice for a gooey pan fried grilled cheese sandwich.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turkey Picadillo

Pretty much anywhere you travel in the Spanish speaking world you'll find some version of the usually ground, but sometime chopped meat concoction known most often as Picadillo. The warm spices and gentle sweetness whisper of the Moors who most food historians believe brought these types of dishes with them to the European continent. From Spain these flavors traveled the globe and along the way melded with the local cuisine and now you can find Picadillos with olives, raisins, sweet onions, tomatoes, and even bits of ham. Eaten with rice or folded into dough, Picadillo is an easy disguise for leftovers and a quick weeknight super.
For my version I sauteed four chopped onions in olive oil and butter until just beginning to soften and added several cups of chopped turkey meat, chili powder, a pinch of ground cloves, about a half tsp of cinnamon, and a dash of mace. After stirring in the spices in went one large can of diced tomatoes, one cup of water, 3/4 cup of raisins, 2 TB of tomato paste, some brown sugar to taste, and a heavy 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. I left all the ingredients to simmer, covered, for 5 minutes and then for five minutes more, uncovered, to thicken slightly. With a little salt and pepper our homestyle version of Picadillo was ready for dinner over saffron rice. I've already wrapped the remaining stew in empanada dough (ready to bake bundles waiting in the freezer)for another night. James will never recognize those leftovers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cauliflower Soup

I hate letting anything go to waste. The big man isn't that big on leftovers. I swear it's like he doesn't even see them. Sigh. I try to shop for what we need but every now and then it's just too easy to get seduced by cheerful green leeks, purple carrots, or buttery yellow crisp cauliflower.
Soup is the perfect answer to over shopping woes -- and couldn't be easier.
I rough chopped 2 leeks and one large onion and sautéed them, with a clove of garlic in olive oil until the vegetables were soft but not colored. Then I added the florets from one head of cauliflower, about a tsp of thyme, a pinch of saffron, and 4 cups of stock and let everything cook over medium heat -- covered -- until the cauliflower was tender (based on advice from an on-line recipe I started my soup from I took out a few florets to pan fry as a garnish).
I pureed everything with a couple TBs of butter and served along with flatbreads flavored with za'atar (a favorite of James')-- a middle eastern spice blend perfect with cauliflower.
Soups On!

Monday, February 15, 2010

What James Had For Valentines Day

Valentine's Day. Enforced romance generally rife with culinary atrocities.
We never go out for Valentine's Day. Restaurants create anything but a bargain Prix Fixe menus filled with smaller portions of a smaller selection of their regular menu. The chef generally isn't in, ingredients are pre-planned and perhaps not fresh from the day (certainly prepared in advance) -- in general, as Anthony Bourdain says, it is among the worst days of the year to eat out. Besides the pressure for romance takes all the fun out of it.
James and I decided to share valentines with our closest friends in a couples night at our house. Since we all consider cheese the most important food group -- and wanted something easy to prepare and still delicious -- we landed on a Raclette party.
Raclette is both a type of cheese and the traditional Swiss (some parts of France too) dish it stars in. Traditionally the cut wheels were placed by the fire and as the cheese melted it was scraped onto bread or boiled potatoes and served with and assortment of pickles and charcuterie. Modern times have brought table top Raclette grills with little pans for melting the cheese and griddles on top for vegetables, sausages -- anything you can imagine. For our evening we went for all the favorites. Jamon Serrano (not traditional but our favorite), Mortadella, rosemary ham, Italian Salame from Fra Mani, garlic sausage, steamed asparagus, lightly dressed mushrooms and plenty of homemade bread from Jim Lahey's recipes (that's for another post).
For dessert? A valentine's favorite and a classic diner participation dish, chocolate fondue. We layed out dried pineapple, crystallized ginger, bananas, and home made brown sugar marshmallows. I tried to buy marshmallows -- really I did. I went to two stores and called a third looking for French marshmallows or the delicious versions made by The Little Flower Candy Company in Pasadena, but no luck. After a couple hours in saturday afternoon shopping traffic I decided it would be easier to make my own, and a good way to use up the piles of brown sugar in my kitchen. First, in my mixer bowl, I softened 3 packages of gelatin in a 1/2 cup of water. Then I combined 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of light cornstarch, 1/2 cup of water, and a pinch of salt in saucepan and slowly heated it to 220º. With the mixer on low I poured the syrup over the softened gelatin and when it was combined turned the mixer (with the whisk attachment) to high and beat the marshmallows for about 15 minutes (adding a teaspoon of vanilla in the last couple seconds of beating) until the mixture was lukewarm and fluffy. To form the marshmallows I spread the beaten mixture out into a 10" x 13" pan already prepared with non-stick spray and a coating of equal parts powdered sugar and cornstarch. With the help of cornstarch coated hands I spread the mixture out dusted with the mixed powders and allowed the marshmallows to dry for about 6 hours. After time to dry I turned out the batter and cut it into squares with a pizza cutter dusted in the powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture, tossed the cut squares in the powders again and held the sweetly flavored treats in an airtight container until dinnertime.
For the chocolate I mixed about 3/4 cup of heavy cream, 3/4 cup of milk, 1 1/2 TB butter, and 2 TB sugar in a saucepan and brought to just below a boil. I whisked in about 12 oz of assorted dark chocolate (I used a mix of 70% and 53%) and poured the rich chocolaty mixture into a butter warmed with a tea light to keep it warm at the table. We forgot to get strawberries for the classic valentines combo -- but it would have been pretty hard to beat the combo of the delicates brown sugar sweetness with dark chocolate.
Happy Valentine's Day Honey!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Not The Prettiest, But Pretty Delicious

I started out this dish based on a Jamie Oliver recipe I found on-line. I loved his idea of using slow cooked vegetables as the filling for the cannelloni. The broccoli and cauliflower are cooked in boiling water, drained and cooked again with olive oil, anchovies, garlic, and chili peppers until soft enough to pipe into half-cooked cannelloni shells. Oliver makes what he calls a white sauce out of creme fraiche and flour. He also uses a tomato sauce layered into his casserole. That's where we parted ways. I somehow just couldn't stomach the idea of an "easy" quick mixed white sauce, so I made a quick version with butter, flour and milk. I looked in the fridge and found a tub of ricotta which I mixed into the white sauce along with some grated parmesan for a cheesy creamy, yet still delicate base. I layered the sauce, stuffed noodles, and more grated parmesan into a baking dish and popped it in to the oven for about 30 minutes at 375º.
MMM Good.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Perfect Cure: Homemade Chicken Soup

The big man was feeling a little under the weather and needed something warm comforting and easy to eat. Chicken soup to the rescue. Honestly I thought about just using some store bought stock but I couldn't go through with it. I simmered a whole chicken, an onion, a couple carrots, a stalk or two of celery, 2 garlic cloves, and a few peppercorns covered with water until the chicken was gently poached and the resulting stock had a delicate color and flavor. I strained the broth and then put it back on the stove with finely diced carrots, celery, and peas fresh from the front yard garden. When the vegetables were tender I mixed in some chopped chicken and cooked orzo pasta and topped with oyster crackers. You may notice the soup has a bit of a pinkish tinge -- one of my carrots was a beautiful deep purple which lent some color to the broth -- next time I'll boil those pretty, colorful carrots separately.
Homemade soup with homegrown color.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More Than Just Bread

Another before and after.
I've already decided to make every bread in Jim Lahey's My Bread cookbook. But, he has more than bread in there and I have been going back and forth about what exactly my responsibility to my cooking ethics and and anal retentive nature should be. Must I make every recipe in the book -- sandwiches, soups, pizza toppings -- because I have decided to make every bread? Must I make everything a competition? Will I be secretly (maybe not so secretly) disappointed if I don't do it all? Well yes. Even though I have decided on the leisurely pace of a loaf a week I can't leave stones unturned (or soups uncooked). So, while faced with a harvest of fresh Christmas lima beans and fridge full of delicious greens I spied Lahey's Ribollita recipe.
Ribollita is classic Tuscan peasant food. A thick soup -- or sometimes more like a casserole -- thickened with stale bread. On day one this hearty stew would be called Minestra di Pane (Bread soup), on day two re-heated it's Ribollita (re-boiled) and even better.
Following this recipe created a crisis on conscience. Lahey's instructions called for Savoy cabbage and Borlotti beans -- easily available, and yet I couldn't quite bring myself to go out and buy something new when I had perfectly good (seasonal and freshly harvested) ingredients right at home. Was I still following the recipe if I used chard and kale and radish greens? Maybe not according to some but I couldn't help but feel the substitution, opting for what was fresh and plentiful made the soup certainly more Italian (I know from years of experience Italians don't like waste or that sort of extravagance), more delicious, and more in keeping with the spirit of Lahey's recipe. So I followed his method with my ingredients.
Instead of starting with pancetta as I usually do, Lahey's sautés red onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil along with salt, bay leaves and crushed red pepper. Then the greens are quickly wilted before canned tomatoes, water, a parmesan cheese rind and the beans are added in to simmer for 2 -3 hours. The last step, and the reason Lahey includes the recipe is thickening the stew with cubes of stale (certainly homemade) bread, stirred into the soup pot. To serve drizzle with good quality olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Fresh tasting soup from garden fresh ingredients.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tomato Sauce Challenge: Part Two

I've made many a long cooking spaghetti sauce (or "gravy" as Tony Soprano would call it) in my day -- but Mark Peel's Bolognese recipe pretty much takes the cake. No matter how good this turned out to be I knew right at the start it was unlikely I would ever make it again. Good thing it makes a hefty amount -- plenty enough for dinner and the freezer.
Peel starts with brisket cut into 2" square pieces and marinated overnight in red wine and aromatic vegetables. Then the brisket is seared and added to a dutch oven. Seared pancetta, and the vegetables from the marinade (with the red wine reduced by half) join the brisket, along with 4 larges cans of whole Italian tomatoes (drained) that have been seasoned and roasted in the oven for 45 minutes. Once chicken stock and a cup of the drained liquid from the canned tomatoes are added in the pot is left to simmer for about 3 hours until the meat is fork tender. The brisket is removed from the pot -- left to cool and shredded (not cubed or ground as most Bolognese sauces require). The sauce in progress and the meat are held separately over night so the fat can be skimmed off the surface of the sauce. The next day, after the sauce has been passed through a food mill, just when you think you must be close to finished, the meat is added to the sauce. In a separate pan finely diced celery, carrots and sliced garlic are sautéed in olive oil and added into the sauce along with a bouquet garni of parsley and thyme and the whole thing is left to simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour. Presto. Mark Peel's version of Bolognese.
Was it good? Yes. Better than my usual "long-cooked" sauce that only takes about 3 hours? Probably not. Was the fatty mouth feel and rich taste better than Arthur Schwartz's Neopolitan style pork neck sauce? Not really. Somehow the bones in those recipes seem to add the same richness as Peel's lengthy preparation.
Not only was the process difficult to swallow (sorry) but the instructions as written in Peel's otherwise fairly well scripted book made following his lengthy instructions even harder.
The verdict? Pretty good. Nothing a resident of Bologna would recognize as that city's famous sauce, this rich sauce brought the area around Campania or Abruzzo more to mind than the Emilia-Romagna countryside. All in all try it once for fun (and to fill the freezer) but don't switch recipes just yet.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Loaf of the Week Continues

To be honest -- most of Jim Lahey's recipes (at least in the "Specialties of the House" section of his cookbook) are very similar, slight variation in proportions or types of flour, or flavorings added. The cheese bread is simply cubes of cheese folded into the dough at the beginning and left to rise with the flour and yeast. To the usual 3 cups of bread flour Lahey instructed to mix 1 tsp of salt (slightly less than usual), 3/4 tsp yeast (slightly more than usual), 2 1/2 cups of cubed cheese (1/2" cubes), and a sprinkling (1/2 tsp) of pepper with 1 1/3 cups of cool water. From there the method is the same as his famous no-knead bread. Leave the dough to sit for 12 to 18 hours for the first rise. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface, shape into a ball and cover with a kitchen towel (dusting the dough with flour to keep from sticking) and let rise for 2 hours. After the second rise the dough is turned into a 4 1/2 - 5 quart dutch oven that has been heating in a pre-heated 475º oven for at least 30 minutes and baked -- with the pot's cover on, for 30 minutes. Another 30 minutes uncovered and your bread is rich golden brown and crispy. No fail perfect every time no effort home made bread.
I'm slowly working my way through Lahey's My Bread cookbook. So far I've made his classic no knead bread, the Italian style baguettes he calls Stecca, Pizza with cauliflower, this light tasting cheese bread, and our favorite so far the no knead whole wheat loaf.
The testing continues.

Friday, February 5, 2010

. . . And After

My Dad loved corned beef hash. Straight from the can. Crisp fried with eggs. Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner. As a kid I don't think I knew it was something you could -- or anyone would -- make from scratch. Of course, my mom never made corned beef so it wasn't like the ingredients were any where handy. Although I still have a soft spot in my heart for the red and yellow can, these days we've upped the ante on the diner favorite.
For your homemade hash, melt a couple TBs of butter in a frying pan and add 1/2 diced onion, equal parts finely chopped corned beef and cooked potatoes, and enough liquid (could be milk, cream, gravy or tomato sauce) to moisten the mixture. Cook in the melted butter for about 10 minutes until the bottom is browned and crisp. Flip in the pan and fry until crisped on both sides. Serve with a fresh (thanks girls), lightly fried egg.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Mexico Style

Carne Adovada. A dish little seen outside of it's Land of enchantment home isn't the Mexican or Southwest or even Tex Mex foods it may bring to mind. It is New Mexico; The home of roasted green chiles, sweet bischochitos, and this red chili marinated pork dish served at home, in diners, and on high end tables across the state.
Barely known even in nearby states Carne Adovada is served for every meal -- topped with a lightly fried egg, wrapped in lettuce leaves or as a chili soup in a bowl with tortillas or fry bread on the side. For this simple make ahead dinner I made a chili sauce in the blender. I whirred together 2 cups of water, 6 cloves garlic, 1 onion, 1 TB salt, 1 tsp oregano, 3 1/2 TBs New Mexico chili powder and 1/3 tsp cumin until smooth and let the cubed pork (about 2 1/4 lbs of pork shoulder cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes) marinate in the sauce overnight. In the morning I put everything in the trust crock pot and let the stew simmer on low for 10 hours.
For our less than fiery hot palettes I broke with tradition a bit and served the spicy stew over white rice with creamy avocado and a sprinkle of salty, dry cotija cheese.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Corned Beef Before . . .

Not even a compromise. I always do my first corned beef cooking in the crock pot. This time -- to make sure James had a full dinner I added potatoes and cabbage. In the morning I added about 1 half dozen small 9about 3 inches across) yellow potatoes, the corned beef brisket, 1 peeled onion, 12 black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 head of garlic and 3 allspice berries to the crock pot along with 4 cups of water and let the mixture cook on low for 9 hours. Then I (well I asked James to do it while I was out) added as many wedges of cabbage as he could fit into the crock pot and let it to cook for 3 hours more. An hour before dinner James (this was a family participation dinner) preheated the oven to 350º. Before I left in the morning I stirred up equal parts dijon mustard and brown sugar with enough honey to make a slightly tangy sweet glaze ( I usually follow the Silver Palette glaze recipe of 4 TB brown sugar 4 TB mustard, and 1 cup orange marmalade but we were fresh out of marmalade so I punted). A half hour before dinner, the big man removed the meat from the crock pot to a rimmed baking sheet, covered it with the glaze and baked for 30 minutes until the glaze made a sweet, crisp surface on the meat (James actually likes that glaze a little burnt). Served with the slow cooked potatoes and cabbage it's an easy winter night's treat, that makes for great leftovers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Can Mac and Cheese Be Too Rich?

I didn't think so -- but, apparently I was wrong -- at least where James is concerned. After a quick perusal of the cheese drawer for odds and ends waiting to be used I mixed up a quick cheese sauce (a flour and butter roux, milk, S&P, and a dash each of nutmeg and cayenne). When the sauce was thick and warmed I dropped in cubes of delicious, voluptuous, washed rind Crémier de Chaumes (just the soft center cheese, not the rind) and stirred until the cheese was fully melted and the sauce silky smooth.
I mixed half cooked, drained macaroni (I used cavatappi) into the sauce and layered that mixture along with plenty of grated Montgomery Cheddar. I sprinkled fresh bread crumbs over the top and eft it in the fridge for James to bake when I had a late night at work.
Rich? Yes. Delicious? Yes. But maybe best served in tapas sized portions.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Backyard Lettuce Salad and Crusty Whole Wheat Bread

Consider this the start of the bread a week challenge. I've been poking around through Jim Lahey's Bread Book since the big man gave it to me for Christmas. This crusty whole wheat bread was so successful I am determined to make every recipe in the book. I'm no Julie and Julia (and I've got more than a 9 to 5 job) so I'll just start with a loaf a weekend. So far this version of Lahey's no knead classic is a family favorite.
Bread this good deserves to be more than a side, more than an accompaniment. So to let this hero loaf shine I picked a basket of fresh lettuces from out back yard patch and whipped up a simple Meyer lemon vinaigrette (we are one of the lucky ones with backyard tree). Fresh, simple, delicious.